Preparing to reopen worksites or expand on-site operations is uncharted territory for businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. As you move toward the next phase of reopening, it’s important not only to physically prepare the workplace, but also to create and communicate appropriate safety policies and procedures while supporting the wellbeing of your employees.
Your checklist for a confident return to the workplace.
Preparing the Workplace for Return
Much has changed since March of 2020 that can impact how you should approach preparing your workplace for the next phase of return-to-work. Consider using a Return-to-Work Pulse Survey template to identify employee concerns, and be sure to educate yourself on federal, state, and local regulations and guidelines regarding COVID-19 and returning to work. Use our return-to-work checklist for preparing the workplace as another helpful resource.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Department of Labor (DOL), and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have provided guidance to help employers navigate key aspects of regulatory compliance in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s important to also familiarize yourself with state and local requirements, which may differ from federal guidelines.
Explore coronavirus resources provided by the DOL that may be relevant to your organization.
Review the EEOC’s guidance on compliance with equal employment opportunity laws in relation to COVID-19.
Explore this COVID-19 State Reopening Guide to find information related to the state or local guidelines that apply to your business.
Be mindful that there are still many uncertainties surrounding some aspects of compliance related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The regulatory agencies are updating their guidance regularly, so check their websites often to see if new information has become available.
Scheduling With Social Distancing in Mind
Returning to work most likely doesn’t mean going back to the same setup as before. Structuring the workplace to minimize risk to employees and others will require implementing social distancing policies that will likely need to be in place for an extended period of time, and reviewed frequently as circumstances change and guidance evolves regarding best practices and state and local regulatory obligations.
Consider a phased reopening that prioritizes bringing back the most essential workers first, then staggering the return of other employees. Explore increasing the number of shifts as a way to reduce the number of employees who are in the physical location at any given time. For some roles, consider a hybrid approach, in which employees work from home certain days and work in the office certain days.
Even with fewer people on-site at any given time, it can still be hard for employees to properly social distance in many office settings. You may need to redesign the workplace floor plan to make it as easy as possible for employees to follow social distancing measures.
Research, review, and implement all of the relevant social distancing policies that are in place at the state and local levels, and check back regularly to stay up-to-date. Your state’s department of public health can be a good resource for this kind of information.
Review the guidance from the CDC and OSHA to learn the recommended precautions and practices you should consider as you plan changes to the office setting. These may include, but are in no way limited to:
Consider designating separate doorways for entering and exiting the office, to make it easier for foot traffic to flow in only one direction.
Spread out workstations to allow for a minimum of six feet (ideally more) between employees.
Rather than holding department or team meetings in crowded conference rooms, use videoconferencing, with participants logging on from their individual offices or work areas.
PPE and Cleanliness Considerations
Scheduling and distance aren’t the only important considerations. Personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleanliness/sanitation practices can play an important role in protecting employees as the workplace reopens.
Review OSHA’s Guidance on Returning to Work, along with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for resuming business and interim guidance for businesses for information on PPE and workplace cleanliness.
Verify state/local requirements around wearing PPE for your industry, and check back regularly for updates to those requirements. If it’s not already required, consider making it mandatory for employees to wear face masks or other face coverings while at work.
Review the frequency with which your office is cleaned or sanitized. Consider more frequent deep cleanings and/or sanitation between shifts.
Provide employees with the tools and information they need to keep the office clean during the work day. For example:
Provide single-use cutlery, plates, and condiments in communal kitchens. You may even want to bar the use of kitchens altogether.
If you provide snacks for employees to enjoy at work, choose single serving packages.
Consider requiring employees to use gloves while handling communal equipment or provide disinfectant for wipe-downs before and after use.
Set up multiple touch-free hand sanitizer stations throughout the workplace and ensure they stay stocked.
For more PPE and cleanliness practices to consider, check out the Workplace Safety section of our guide for navigating the return to work.
COVID-19-related Policies and Procedures
Returning to work doesn’t mean going back to business as usual. Time your workplace reopening appropriately. The fact that on-site work is being allowed doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the right time for your business or team members. Prior to reopening, consider whether some workplace policies and/or practices need to be changed, eliminated, or at least paused for a period of time due to the pandemic.
Review state-by-state business reopening guidance to learn about state-specific reopening plans for your area. Follow any requirements or recommendations with respect to workplace safety measures and other applicable guidance.
Minimize or restrict all nonessential work-related travel and consider limiting or disallowing workplace visitors while pandemic-related risk remains high.
Conduct discretionary health and safety procedures, such as temperature screening or COVID-19 testing, in compliance with EEOC regulations and CDC, state, and local guidance, as needed to maximize workplace safety. Keep in mind that some states and localities may even require these or related precautions.
Continue to utilize remote team collaboration tools for meetings, training sessions, and other multi-employee communication, in order to minimize the need for workers to gather in close proximity to one another.
Consider requiring all employees to go through a virtual re-onboarding session to provide training on key pandemic-related changes prior to returning to the worksite.
Publish and post updated workplace policies procedures via the intranet and on-site bulletin boards, along with guidelines or tips for compliance.
Communicate closely and carefully with your employees, making sure they know not only what the policy and procedure changes are, but why they are being implemented.
Ensure managers are informed of all of the changes and hold them accountable for ensuring that the updated policies and procedures are followed consistently.
For more information on this aspect of reopening, consult our Return-to-Work Policies and Procedures checklist.
Employee Mental Health and Wellbeing
Workplace wellness — including mental health — is just as important now as it was pre-pandemic (maybe even more so), in light of the stress, uncertainty, and tragedy of recent events. This is why it’s so important to incorporate best practices considerations for discussing mental health into your return-to-work plans.
Encourage managers to engage in dialogue with employees as a way to ensure that team members have a space to communicate what they’re feeling or experiencing.
Consider establishing employee resource groups (ERG) specific to COVID-19 as a way for employees to connect with others who have similar concerns.
Address stressors unique to returning to work that employees may be facing, such as concerns unique to parents or health considerations that put them or their loved ones in an elevated risk category associated with COVID-19.
Implement strategies designed to promote employees’ mental health and well-being during COVID-19.
Finding Your Path to What Comes Next
Every organization’s experience with COVID-19 is unique, and the same is true for each individual employee. The path to deciding how to best reopen your business or move to the next phase of reopening is one that requires carefully considering a variety of factors related to the regulatory environment, physical workplace, and needs of your employees. Use this guide and related resources from Justworks to help chart the way forward as your organization begins to navigate toward tomorrow.
This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.